🏙️ How the spread of sheds threatens cities — “A white-collar worker who has tried to work from the kitchen table for the past nine months might be keen to return to the office. A worker who has an insulated garden shed with Wi-Fi will be less so. Joel Bird, who builds bespoke sheds, is certain that his clients envisage a long-term change in their working habits. “They don’t consider it to be temporary,” he says. “They’re spending too much money.”
😬 Transactional Enchantment — “The greatest endemic risk to the psyche in 2021 is not that you’ll end up on the streets next week or fail to fund your retirement in 30 years. The greatest risk is that you’ll feel so relentlessly battered by the weirdness all around that you’ll go numb and simply disengage from the world entirely today.”
💬 Convocational Development — “The fundamental difference between the convocation and traditional open source is that energy is put into facilitating discussions between users, coders, graphic designers etc. Documentation and instructions are often the weakest part of an open source project, and that excludes people who don’t have the time or ability to assemble a mental model of the open source software and its capabilities from just the code and the meagre promotional materials. The convocation starts as a basic web forum, but evolves tools and cultures that enable greater participation in the development process itself.”
📈 GameStop Is Rage Against the Financial Machine — “Instead of greed, this latest bout of speculation, and especially the extraordinary excitement at GameStop, has a different emotional driver: anger. The people investing today are driven by righteous anger, about generational injustice, about what they see as the corruption and unfairness of the way banks were bailed out in 2008 without having to pay legal penalties later, and about lacerating poverty and inequality. This makes it unlike any of the speculative rallies and crashes that have preceded it.”
Quotation-as-title by R.H. Tawney. Image from top-linked post.
A 2019 study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that none of the facial recognition tools from Microsoft, Amazon and IBM were 100% accurate when it came to recognising men and women with dark skin.
And a study from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology suggested facial recognition algorithms were far less accurate at identifying African-American and Asian faces compared with Caucasian ones.
Amazon, whose Rekognition software is used by police departments in the US, is one of the biggest players in the field, but there are also a host of smaller players such as Facewatch, which operates in the UK. Clearview AI, which has been told to stop using images from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, also sells its software to US police forces.
Maria Axente, AI ethics expert at consultancy firm PwC, said facial recognition had demonstrated “significant ethical risks, mainly in enhancing existing bias and discrimination”.
Like many newer technologies, facial recognition is already a battleground for people of colour. This is a welcome, if potential cynical move, by IBM who let’s not forget literally provided technology to the Nazis.
If there is one reason to be optimistic about Wikipedia’s coverage of racial justice, it’s this: The project is by nature open-ended and, well, editable. The spike in volunteer Wikipedia contributions stemming from the George Floyd protests is certainly not neutral, at least to the extent that word means being passive in this moment. Still, Koerner cautioned that any long-term change of focus to knowledge equity was unlikely to be easy for the Wikipedia editing community. “I hope that instead of struggling against it they instead lean into their discomfort,” she said. “When we’re uncomfortable, change happens.”
Stephen Harrison (Slate)
This is a fascinating glimpse into Wikipedia and how the commitment to ‘neutrality’ affects coverage of different types of people and event feeds.
Recent events have revealed, again, that the systems we inhabit and use as educators are perfectly designed to get the results they get. The stated desire is there to change the systems we use. Let’s be able to look back to this point in two years and say that we have made a genuine difference.
Some great questions here from Nick, some of which are specific to education, whereas others are applicable everywhere.
Since the protests began, demonstrators in multiple cities have reported spotting LRADs, or Long-Range Acoustic Devices, sonic weapons that blast sound waves at crowds over large distances and can cause permanent hearing loss. In response, two audio engineers from New York City have designed and built a shield which they say can block and even partially reflect these harmful sonic blasts back at the police.
Janus Rose (Vice)
For those not familiar with the increasing militarisation of police in the US, this is an interesting read.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is inviting comments about Facebook’s purchase of a company that currently provides gif search across many of the social network’s competitors, including Twitter and the messaging service Signal.
[F]or Facebook, the more compelling reason for the purchase may be the data that Giphy has about communication across the web. Since many services that integrate with the platform not only use it to find gifs, but also leave the original clip hosted on Giphy’s servers, the company receives information such as when a message is sent and received, the IP address of both parties, and details about the platforms they are using.
Alex Hern (The Guardian)
In my 2012 TEDx Talk I discussed the memetic power of gifs. Others might find this news surprising, but I don’t think I would have been surprised even back then that it would be such a hot topic in 2020.
Also by the Hern this week is an article on Twitter’s experiments around getting people to actually read things before they tweet/retweet them. What times we live in.
To Peter Turchin, who studies population dynamics at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, the appearance of three peaks of political instability at roughly 50-year intervals is not a coincidence. For the past 15 years, Turchin has been taking the mathematical techniques that once allowed him to track predator–prey cycles in forest ecosystems, and applying them to human history. He has analysed historical records on economic activity, demographic trends and outbursts of violence in the United States, and has come to the conclusion that a new wave of internal strife is already on its way1. The peak should occur in about 2020, he says, and will probably be at least as high as the one in around 1970. “I hope it won’t be as bad as 1870,” he adds.
Laura Spinney (Nature)
I’m not sure about this at all, because if you go looking for examples of something to fit your theory, you’ll find it. Especially when your theory is as generic as this one. It seems like a kind of reverse fortune-telling?
Much of our economies in the west have been built on the idea of unique ideas, or inventions, which are then protected and monetised. It’s a centuries old way of looking at ideas, but today we also recognise that this method of creating and growing markets around IP protected products has created an unsustainable use of the world’s natural resources and generated too much carbon emission and waste.
Open source and creative commons moves us significantly in the right direction. From open sharing of ideas we can start to think of ideas, services, systems, products and activities which might be essential or basic for sustaining life within the ecological ceiling, whilst also re-inforcing social foundations.
I’m proud to be part of a co-op that focuses on openness of all forms. This article is a great introduction to anyone who wants a new way of looking at our post-COVID future.
Lockdowns are slowing harvests, while millions of seasonal labourers are unable to work. Food waste has reached damaging levels, with farmers forced to dump perishable produce as the result of supply chain problems, and in the meat industry plants have been forced to close in some countries.
Even before the lockdowns, the global food system was failing in many areas, according to the UN. The report pointed to conflict, natural disasters, the climate crisis, and the arrival of pests and plant and animal plagues as existing problems. East Africa, for instance, is facing the worst swarms of locusts for decades, while heavy rain is hampering relief efforts.
The additional impact of the coronavirus crisis and lockdowns, and the resulting recession, would compound the damage and tip millions into dire hunger, experts warned.
Fiona Harvey (The Guardian)
The knock-on effects of COVID-19 are going to be with us for a long time yet. And these second-order effects will themselves have effects which, with climate change also being in the mix, could lead to mass migrations and conflict by 2025.
What exactly a mouse sees when she’s tripping on DOI—whether the plexiglass walls of her cage begin to melt, or whether the wood chips begin to crawl around like caterpillars—is tied up in the private mysteries of what it’s like to be a mouse. We can’t ask her directly, and, even if we did, her answer probably wouldn’t be of much help.
Cody Kommers (Nautilus)
The bit about ‘ego disillusion’ in this article, which is ostensibly about how to get legal hallucinogens to market, is really interesting.
Some people are easy to follow online. They have one social media account to which they post regularly, and back that up with a single website where they expand on those points.
Stowe Boyd, whose work I’ve followed (or attempted to follow) for a few years now, is not one of these people. In fact, the number of platforms he tried earlier this year prompted me to get in touch with him to ask just how many platforms now had his subscribers’ email addresses.
Ironically, it was only last week that I decided to support Stowe’s latest venture via Substack. However, in a post yesterday he explains that he’s going ‘back to square one’:
I won’t recapitulate the many transitions that have gone on in my search for the ‘right’ newsletter/subscription technologies over the past year. But I have come to the conclusion that I am more interested in growing the community of Work Futures readers than I am in trying to make cash flow from it.
The thing I’ve learned about posting things to the internet over the last twenty years is that nobody cares. People support things that reflect who they believe themselves to be right now. That changes over time.
So if you’re putting things online, you have to make sure it works for you. Even the most fun jobs imaginable can become… something else if you focus too much on what a fickle audience wants.
As I said, I am motivated to take these steps in part by the desire to simplify my daily activities, and shelve work patterns that suck time. But I am equally motivated by making the discourse around these topics more open, while encouraging people to support Work Futures, but in that order of importance.
Openness always wins. You can support Stowe’s work via donations, and my work via Patreon.
In last week’s newsletter, the first after a month’s hiatus over the summer, I asked the 1,500+ subscribers to Thought Shrapnel’s if they’d send me answers to the following:
What do you really like about Thought Shrapnel in its current format?
What do you dislike about it?
So far, six days later, I’ve received 15 responses, which represents 1% of the subscriber base.
Here’s an anonymised sample of what they said:
“I like the diversity of links and ideas that you provide. Not sure if that helps.”
“I don’t dislike it, but some of the more technical stuff — blockchain — is less interesting to me than the educational stuff.”
“You remind me of myself 40 years ago. Thank you.”
“In it’s current format, it’s hard to save to Pocket for offline reading on an airplane (or someplace else without an Internet connection.”
“I most appreciate your insight and perspective in these informational sources. That is to suggest…that I for one value when you provide context about the stories you’re sharing. Furthermore, you dig in a bit deeper and educate about the nuance involved…but also the larger impact of this news.”
“I’m happy to support the continuing collation of, and reflection on developments. Your thinking touches on multiple fields, and this is something I find particularly valuable.”
“For me it’s a better way of keeping up to date with what you’re posting rather than getting notifications of each individual post through other channels.”
“I also like how you point to new robust technologies which I’m on the lookout for.”
“There’s not much I don’t like and, to be honest, I’m happy to skip the parts each week that aren’t particularly relevant to me.”
“I don’t know Google’s parameters for clipping emails, but I do know that I can click the “view full email” option to see it all, but I usually don’t.”
It’s always nice to see kind words written about your work, which I obviously appreciate. The main thing it would seem that I need to change is that the newsletter gets ‘clipped’ by GMail and other providers. In other words, I need to make it shorter.
I came across this via a chain of links that took me down a rabbithole. I’m pretty sure it started with an article referenced on Hacker News, but I’m not sure.
In any case, I thought it was pretty interesting. Basically someone who self-identifies as a geek giving other geeks some advice. Having said that, it’s probably applicable more widely than that, particularly among men.
Here’s a taste:
Within the constellation of allied hobbies and subcultures collectively known as geekdom, one finds many social groups bent under a crushing burden of dysfunction, social drama, and general interpersonal wack-ness. It is my opinion that many of these never-ending crises are sparked off by an assortment of pernicious social fallacies — ideas about human interaction which spur their holders to do terrible and stupid things to themselves and to each other.
There’s a list of five such fallacies, my favourite being:
Geek Social Fallacy #4: Friendship Is Transitive
Every carrier of GSF4 has, at some point, said:
“Wouldn’t it be great to get all my groups of friends into one place for one big happy party?!”
If you groaned at that last paragraph, you may be a recovering GSF4 carrier.
GSF4 is the belief that any two of your friends ought to be friends with each other, and if they’re not, something is Very Wrong.
The milder form of GSF4 merely prevents the carrier from perceiving evidence to contradict it; a carrier will refuse to comprehend that two of their friends (or two groups of friends) don’t much care for each other, and will continue to try to bring them together at social events. They may even maintain that a full-scale vendetta is just a misunderstanding between friends that could easily be resolved if the principals would just sit down to talk it out.
A more serious form of GSF4 becomes another “friendship test” fallacy: if you have a friend A, and a friend B, but A & B are not friends, then one of them must not really be your friend at all. It is surprisingly common for a carrier, when faced with two friends who don’t get along, to simply drop one of them.
On the other side of the equation, a carrier who doesn’t like a friend of a friend will often get very passive-aggressive and covertly hostile to the friend of a friend, while vigorously maintaining that we’re one big happy family and everyone is friends.
GSF4 can also lead carriers to make inappropriate requests of people they barely know — asking a friend’s roommate’s ex if they can crash on their couch, asking a college acquaintance from eight years ago for a letter of recommendation at their workplace, and so on. If something is appropriate to ask of a friend, it’s appropriate to ask of a friend of a friend.
Arguably, Friendster was designed by a GSF4 carrier.
I’ve been a blogger for around 13 years now. What the author of this post says about its value really resonates with me:
Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale. An attempt at genuine connection vs the gloss and polish and mass market of most “content marketing”.
He talks about the ‘topology’ of blogging changing over the years:
Crucially, these entry points to the network were very big and very accessible. What do I mean by that? Well – in those early days they were very big in the sense that if you got your content on the Digg homepage a lot of people would see it (relative to the total size of the network at the time). And they were very accessible in the sense that it wasn’t that hard to get your content there! I recall having a bunch of Digg homepage hits and Hacker News homepage hits.
I once had 15,000 people read a post of mine within a 24 hour period via a link from Hacker News. Yet the number of people who did something measurable (got in touch, subscribed to my newsletter, etc. ) was effectively zero.
Every community now has a fragmented number of communities, homepages, entry points, tinyletters, influencers and networks. They overlap in weird and wonderful ways – and it means that it’s harder than ever to feel like you got a “homepage” success on these networks. To create a moment that has the whole audience looking at the same thing at the same time.
We shouldn’t write for page views and fame, but instead to create value. Just this week I’ve had people cite back to me posts I wrote years ago. It’s a great thing.
So I challenge you to think clearly about the many disparate networks you’re part of and think about the ideas you might want to offer those networks that you don’t want to get lost in the feed. Ideas you might want to return to. Think about how writing with and for the network might enable you to start blogging. Forget the big B blogging model. Forget Medium’s promise of page views and claps. Forget the guest post on Inc, Forbes and Entrepreneur. Forget Fast Company. Forget fast content.